AMHERST – Cumberland County’s representative on the Nova Scotia Teachers Union’s provincial executive is not surprised the membership has given the union a strong strike mandate.
Wade Van Snick, a guidance counsellor at Amherst Regional High School, said the union hosted a couple of regional meetings in the last few weeks and Cumberland County had a strong turnout of teachers.
“In both of those meetings the teachers came in with a lot of uncertainty. We started with educating them, and the next meeting we talked about what we needed from them,” Van Snick said. “From those meetings, I walked away with the feeling that the membership was ready to say ‘we can’t accept this’ and the only way to express this was through a strong strike mandate for the union.”
Van Snick said Cumberland County’s vote numbers were not available Wednesday, but considering the provincial result was 82 per cent he feels the vote was also strong within the Cumberland local. He said the numbers will be made public.
Earlier Wednesday in Halifax, NSTU president Liette Doucet announced the results of the online vote that saw 93 per cent of the total membership cast votes.
“They made this decision knowing that they could face a loss of pay and heavy fines,” Doucet said at a news conference in front of NSTU headquarters. “They’re so concerned for their students and the future of education in this province that they’re willing to accept hardship in hopes that it will demonstrate to the government that the only way forward is through meaningful consultation.”
Doucet said the union is using the mandate as support for a call on Education Minister Zach Churchill and Premier Stephen McNeil to sit down and talk with the union before instituting recommendations of the Avis Glaze report on education.
While the union has a strike mandate, Van Snick said a strike is not imminent – although, he added, anytime you take a strike vote hitting the picket line is a definite option.
“At this stage, we have decided that we would like the government to talk to us,” Van Snick said. “They haven’t spoken to the union. They say they have, that they’ve consulted, but they really haven’t. They’ve used a lot of rhetoric lately, a lot of soundbites that don’t mean anything.”
Van Snick said the message to government is teachers don’t like what it’s doing and it’s willing to go as far as a strike for them to pay attention to their concerns – even if it comes with sanctions such as fines.
He said one of the reasons for the strong made is teachers are concerned for education.
“There’s so much uncertainty. First, the government’s proposed plans don’t have any plan of action or any details as to what these recommendations are going to look like. It’s just a framework,” he said. “The other part to teachers is what does an illegal strike mean and what is going to happen to them?”
That, he said, is a testimony to the resolve the teachers have with regard to the problems the government’s proposed legislation is going to pose for education in this province.”
Van Snick said it’s frustrating for teachers that government won’t listen to the individuals who are in the system working with students every day.
“When you don’t value and respect their opinion you have to question whether they really care about kids because the teachers who are in the classroom every day know what’s working and what’s not working,” he said.
The education minister said following the union’s press conference that the province will meet with the union, although a time has not yet been scheduled. He also indicated that the province will continue its plans.
“We need to have a meaningful conversation with union leadership on what they believe potential solutions are,” Churchill said. “(But) we’ve made it clear that the status quo isn’t an option for us. We think that reform is necessary.”
Doucet had also asked the province to stop its plans to begin implementing the Glaze recommendations. Churchill would not commit to that. At the same time, however, he said the legislation to enact the changes may not come immediately when the legislature sits next Tuesday. He said it depends on the legislative agenda.
“The plan is still to move forward with this but we want to take time to talk with the union to see if there’s solutions or ideas that they have to help us achieve our objectives.”
If the union were to decide to go ahead with some sort of job action in the future, Doucet said there would be enough advance notice for parents to make arrangements. Doucet has said potential job action options, should the union choose to go that route, could include a number of possibilities including a full walkout, a one-day walkout, rotating strikes or work-to-rule.
(With Stuart Peddle, The Chronicle Herald)